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Indirect Rule in Nigeria – Overview, Reasons and Results

Lord Frederick Lugard - Indirect rule in Nigeria
Lord Frederick Lugard

Let us begin with the definition of the indirect rule system.

What is The Definition of Indirect Rule?

Indirect rule is a system of administration used by the British colonial government to govern people of their colonies through the use of traditional rulers and traditional political institutions.

Indirect Rule In Nigeria

The indirect rule system was introduced to Nigeria by Lord Frederick Lugard. British colonial officials in Nigeria formulated and enforced policies & laws through the traditional rulers who only served as intermediaries between the people and the British government.

However, the cultures and traditions of the people were respected and retained by the British authorities in order to make them more acceptable by the people. The system worked out well due to the cooperation of the traditional chiefs who claimed that since their cultures and traditions were respected, they have no problem dealing with the British officials, but this was to some extent.

Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria

The Northern protectorate of Nigeria was divided into six provinces under a British official known as ‘Resident’. The provinces were then sub-divided into districts which was also headed by an official known as the district commissioner.

Was Indirect Rule Successful in Northern Nigeria?

The system was highly successful due to the structure of their pre-colonial political administration which was highly centralized and the existence of taxation system before the advent of the British.

Indirect rule in Nigeria

Did Indirect Rule Succeed In Eastern Nigeria?

No! The system was indeed a huge failure in the eastern part of Nigeria unlike in Northern Nigeria where it was a success.

The main reasons why indirect rule failed in eastern Nigeria include the Igbo’s decentralized pre-colonial political system and the introduction of the warrant chiefs who met the wrath of the Igbo people (easterners). The warrant chiefs were ruthless and high-handed in the process of executing their duties.

When the taxation system was introduced to eastern Nigeria, the way it was man-handled by the warrant chiefs brought about the fear of women paying tax which later culminated in the Aba women riot of 1929.

Indirect Rule in Western Nigeria

It should be noted that the system was partially successful in the western part of Nigeria due to the check and balance system that existed in their pre-colonial political system.

Later on, educated Nigerian elites began to oppose the indirect rule for some reasons. They claimed that the British administration purposely used the uneducated traditional rulers who cannot question or oppose any decision made by the British officials while the educated elites were not recognized and therefore can’t be involved in the administration.

As a result of this, nationalism sprang up among Nigerians and the demand for the liberation of the country was accelerated. Prominent figures like Herbert Macaulay, known as the father of nationalism, led campaigns against the British colonial government demanding the independence of the country which was later granted on the 1st of October 1960.

Factors Responsible for the introduction of Indirect Rule System in Nigeria?

The British colonial government adopted this system due to the dearth of British personnel and insufficient funds and also did the success of this system in other countries like India triggered its introduction to Nigeria.

Other reasons/factors are language barrier, poor climate, selfish interest, i.e satisfaction of Britain’s economic needs, and so on.

The system was considered by some Nigerians as the path to political freedom and stability of Nigeria while others see it only as a means of exploiting the nation.

References:

  • Michael Crowder. IndirectRule: French and British Style. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 34, No. 3. (Jul., 1964), pp. 197–205.
  • England’s Indirect Rule in Its African Colonies- American Historical Association
  • Pre-colonial system in Igbo land – Teslim O. Omipidan
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (April 30, 2019). Indirect Rule in Nigeria – Overview, Reasons and Results. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2019/04/30/indirect-rule-in-nigeria/

133 Comments

  1. Thanks for your question Jessy.
    Here are the features/ characteristics of Indirect Rule In Nigeria:-
    1. Existence of Warrant chiefs in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
    2. Respect for Traditional Rulers by the British.
    3. Respect of Customs and Traditions of the land.
    4. Existence of native court of justice
    5. Exemption of educated elites in the administration
    6. Introduction of tax

  2. Thanks for your question, Mr. Benjamine.
    In a state, the Rule of Law can be ensured under different conditions which we will mention.

    1. Rule of Law can be ensured in a state if there is peace and orderliness. A state at war most times go beyond their constitution while using some war strategies.
    2. Rule of Law can be ensured if there’s democracy. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people- Abraham Lincoln. In order words, Democracy is a representative government. It is only in this type of govt. that Rule of Law can be ensured. The Rule of Law will be absent in a state if it has a military government. NB. The first thing the military does after getting power is to suspend the constitution.

    3. Rule of Law can be ensured if a state has an independent judiciary.

    4. Existence of the office of Ombudsman can also ensure the Rule of Law

    5. And finally, awareness of the fundamental human rights and familiarity with the constitution can also ensure the Rule of Law in a state in the sense that the citizens will know when and how to fight for their rights and oppose any unconstitutional act of the government.

    We hope you’re satisfied with these answers, Mr. Benjamine. Thanks once again for visiting.

  3. Thanks for visiting, Mr. Idris hassan umar. We’ll surely grant your request.
    Here are the Advantages and disadvantages of Indirect rule
    ADVANTAGES

    1. The cultures and traditions of the people were respected
    2. Indirect rule serves as a traning ground for traditional rulers and chiefs.
    3. It was very economical in the sense that the traditional rulers were not paid much in terms of salary
    4. It helped developed a stable political system
    5. It is accomodating (than the french direct administration)

    DISADVANTAGES

    1. It excluded educated Nigerians in administration
    2. Introduction of warrant chiefs
    3. The colonial authority monopolised the right to appoint and depose traditional rulers without people’s consent
    4. Development was slow
    5. Brutality of the warrant chiefs

    We hope you are satisfied with this sir. Stay with OldNaija to get the best!

  4. Thank you Mr. Jude. We can’t get your question very well but we hope this will solve it.
    *Indirect rule serves as a traning ground for traditional rulers and chiefs.

    • It was very economical in the sense that the traditional rulers were not paid much in terms of salary

    *It helped developed a stable political system
    *It is accomodating (than the french direct administration)

  5. What are the implications of indirect rule on intergroup
    relations and how does it undermine indigenous adminstration .
    Do you think the 1914 amalgamation was a marriage of convenience.

    1. Thank you for your question, Mr. Usman Umar. Here are the answers to your questions:
      * Lack of British personnel
      * Insufficient fund
      * To satisfy Britain economic needs
      * The success of the system in other places like India, Uganda etc.
      * Language barrier
      * The cost of the Indirect rule system was very low
      * Poor communication system
      We’re sorry its coming late.

    1. Thanks for your question, Sixbert. The Indirect rule system as its name suggests was very indirect in the sense that the people were governed (indirectly) by the British through their traditional rulers. All laws and polices were formulated and implemented through these uneducated traditional rulers who could not stand against wicked laws made on their people.

    1. The British simply governed the people through their traditional rulers. It is like a central government (the British) and a local govt. (traditional rulers). The British had the power to appoint certain African officials who will be responsible to their king (who is also responsible to the British resident or district officer), or depose any erring official. The British formulate and implement their policies through these traditional rulers.
      Thanks for your visit, Princess. Kindly let us know if you have any other question.

  6. Thank you for your question, Mr. Usman Umar.
    Here are the reasons why the Indirect rule system was used in Nigeria:
    * Dearth of British personnel
    * Inadequate fund
    * Britain’s selfish interest
    * The success of this system in other parts of the world, e.g India
    * Language barrier
    * The type of government practised in some, if not many, African regions was centralised
    We hope we’ve answered your question. Thanks for your visit.

  7. pls my questions are these:
    1. What are the factors that makes indirect rules to fail or succeeds

      1. Thank you, Nanfa Delleng. The Indirect rule system was partial success in Nigeria as it was successful in the Northern region and failed in the Eastern and Western region.
        Indirect rule failed in Nigeria, particularly in the Eastern region due to the decentralized pre-colonial political system they practised and some other factors like the introduction of Warrant Chiefs and tax system.

    1. Thanks for your question, Miss/Mrs. Mercy Oyesola.
      There are a lot of factors that made the Indirect rule succeeded and failed.
      Here are few factors that made it succeeded:
      * The respect of the customs and traditions of the people.
      * The respect for traditional rulers.
      * High level of illiteracy among the people
      * Centralised pre-colonial political system
      Factors that made the system failed:
      * Decentralised pre-colonial political system.
      * Introduction of Warrant chiefs
      * Introduction of tax system
      * Non-recognition of educated elites
      * High level of literacy in the East
      We’re sorry it is coming late.

  8. Pls sir, What are the factors that led to the success of indirect rule in the northern part of the country/ Nigeria?

    1. Thanks for your question, Faith. The success of the Indirect rule system in Northern Nigeria was backed by the following factors:

      • Centralised pre-colonial system that existed in Northern Nigeria.
      • Absolutism of the Emir

      • High level of illiteracy

      • British officials promoted the positions of traditional rulers

      • Existence of tax levy before the advent of the British

      We hope this will do. We’re sorry for replying late.

  9. Thanks you sir for ur contribution. Sir, please can you help me with authorities (REFRENCEs) to back the work. Thanks

  10. Yes of course, Mr. Muhammad Idris Sangei.
    * A Textbook Of West African History; E. Ola Abiola; May 1974
    * C. C. Dibie; Essential Government for Senior Secondary Schools; 3rd edition; Lagos; Tonad Publishers; 2008
    We hope they will do. Thanks for your visit.

  11. Thank you very much sir. Am also reqeusting for; the impacts of direct and indirect rule with as much relevant reference, because it is an assignment given to me to discuss direct and indirect rule with it impact to the Nigerian community. Or please to refer me to other materials. Thanks

  12. Ok, Mr. Muhammad. You can check these out.
    *The American Historical Association. “ENGLAND’S INDIRECT RULE IN ITS AFRICAN COLONIES” in THROUGH THE LENS OF HISTORY: BIAFRA, NIGERIA, THE WEST AND THE WORLD. AHA teaching guide, historians.org, n.d. Accessed 2016-08-29 http://www.historians.org/tl/lessonplans/nc/trask/indirect.htm

  13. Thanks for all you have done sir! I have seen your stuffs/materials, but please can you help me with DIRECT RULE arrange like that of INDIRECT together with it IMPACTS to the Nigerian Community? God Bless You as u Help. And sorry for the disturbance.

    1. You’re welcome, Mr. Muhammad. Indirect rule alone was practised in Nigeria while the Direct rule system was adopted/practised in French African colonies like Senegal, Ivory Coast and so on. So, talking about its impact to the Nigerian community, I don’t think I understand. But I will try all my best to get you materials that may be of help. Be expecting that soon. And take note of this Mr. Muhammad, you are not disturbing me. That is why OldNaija is here. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your question, Mr. Godwin Yakubu. Here are the effects of Indirect rule system in Nigeria:

      • Nigerian traditional political system and leadership were maintained.

      • Nigerians were economically exploited through forced labor, land alienation and tax payment.

      • Slow political development

      • Indirect rule serves as a traning ground for traditional rulers and chiefs.

      • It helped developed a stable political system
        Thanks for your visit.

  14. Thank you for your question, Mr. Liman Mustapha.
    Here are some of the reasons why the Indirect rule system was adopted by Lord Lugard:
    * Dearth of British personnel
    * Inadequate fund
    * Britain’s selfish interest
    * The success of this system in other parts of the world, e.g India
    * Language barrier
    * The type of government practised in some, if not many, African regions was centralised
    Thanks for your visit.

  15. Sir, please can you help me with the authorized history of Luddiet on their work “Industrilized Revolution”? Thanks

    1. Thank you for your question, Mr. Darlington McBill Chris.
      Indirect rule system was practised in Igboland through the use of ‘Warrant Chiefs’ who handled the administration of each Igbo community; they collect taxes, give judgements etc. and report back to the colonial masters. The reason why the ‘Warrant Chiefs where used was because the Igbo society existed without social stratification and a king. Infact, scholars described it as ‘an acephalous society’ which can be translated as a classless society. However, the Indirect rule system failed in this part (Eastern) of Nigeria due to its decentralised pre-colonial political administration and the ruthlessness of the ‘Warrant Chiefs’.
      We hope we’ve answered your question, Mr. Darlington McBill Chris.

  16. wow am a history student i love it alot n seex all ur efforts to mke education easy i must confess u guys re great cuz tis act is really educative n it has made me to learn n knw mre on indirect rule thks alot ohhhhhhhhh may GOD continue to inspire u guys

  17. Thank you for your question.
    Here are the reasons why the Indirect rule system was adopted in Nigeria:
    * Dearth of British personnel
    * Inadequate fund
    * Britain’s selfish interest
    * The success of this system in other parts of the world, e.g India
    * Language barrier
    * The type of government practised in some, if not many, African regions was centralised
    We hope we’ve answered your question, Mr. I Hassan Musa. Thanks for your visit.

    1. Of course, Mr. I Hassan Musa

      • Debie C. C.; Essential Government Textbook for Senior Secondary Schools; 2nd edition; Lagos; Tonad Publishers; 2008
      • Abiola E. O.; A Textbook of West African History; 3rd edition; Ado-Ekiti; Omolayo Standard Press & Bookshops Co (Nig.) Ltd.; 1984

      We hope this satisify you. Thanks for your visit.

  18. Thanks for your question, Teemah.
    The British system of administration in Nigeria can be said to be successful and not successful in the sense that the system of administration the British adopted (indirect rule) was totally successful only in one (north) of the then three Regions of Nigeria. The reason for this had been explained in the original article above. Kindly check it. The indirect rule system was unsuccessful in other Regions (east and west).
    So therefore, the British system of administration in Nigeria can be said to be partially successful.

  19. If you look at the system i.e indirect rule there are certain reasons that make it succeed in the north which invariably make the system fail inthe east, I Suggest that writter of this article should raise such a reasons thanks

    1. There where so many reasons dat led 2 de system of indirect rule in Nigeria,some of the reasons are;lack of british personnel:The system had few Europeans to control effectively areas under their control. Insufficient fund:There was no sufficient fund from british government to engage british officials 4 direct admministration. Poor climate,& Language barrier. e.t.c.

    2. in response to your question the answer here is that due to the less number of colonial administration in Nigeria, so they will make use of the African rulers to governed the populace.

  20. What were the positive roles the educated elites and the traditional rulers played in uniting the Nigerian people before 1960?

  21. Thanks for your question, Mr. Erikefe Collins. Here is the answer to your question:

    • Pre-colonial system in western Nigeria was not centralised but decentralised.
    • Opposition of the Educated elites
    • Inadequate British personel

    Thanks for your visit!

  22. They failed due to the existing pre-colonial system of the easterners which was totally decentralised and not suitable for British administration.
    https://oldnaija.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/pre-colonial-political-system-in-igboland/
    Their high handness in executing policies also made them face the wrath of the easterners. Also, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the introduction of tax. Men and women were marked to pay exorbitant tax. The easterners could not take this. It was one of the main factors that led to the Aba women riot of 1829 and subsequently the failure of the British in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
    https://oldnaija.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/aba-womens-riot-1929/
    Thank you for your visit, Mr. Clinton Onyeabor. We hope wehave answered your question. Please visit often.

  23. in response to your question the answer here is that due to the less number of colonial administration in Nigeria, so they will make use of the African rulers to governed the populace.

  24. No, they were not educated. That is why they couldn’t oppose any of the policies the British authorities formulated and implemented through them. Only a fraction of the elites then were educated. Thank you for your visit, Mr. Adekunle Isaiah Oluwaseun. Please visit often.

    1. The French policy of assimilation was not introduced to Nigeria because Nigeria was then a British colony and Britain employed the indirect rule system and allow Nigeria to develop with her own cultures and systems. The policy of assimilation was only introduced in French colonies like Senegal (Dakar, Goree, Saint-Louis and Rofisque).

      1. The policy of assimilation was one of the French ideologies to impose French cultures on the people of their colonies. In other words, it can be said to be “the idea of expanding French culture to the colonies outside France that is to ‘civilize’ Africans”.

  25. Qn: how did indirect rule became a direct rule in southern Nigeria?
    or
    To what extent was indirect rule a direct rule in southern Nigeria?

  26. They helped the British formulate and implement policies, and also presented them (British) acceptable to their people even though it was against the wills of some the traditional rulers. Check other roles in the post. Thanks for your visit, Emmanuel. Kindly do check back.

  27. Indirect rule was successful in Northern Nigeria, partially successful in Western Nigeria and not successful (failed) in Eastern Nigeria. Read the post for more explanation. Thanks for your visit, Dumnoi Mary. kindly do check back.

  28. Explain the adverse effect of the early nationalist agitation in Africa taking Nigeria as a case study with reference to jaja of opobo and Nana of itsekiri

  29. Thank you for this post. Pls I have a question I have been arguing with my friends, the question is: before the coming of the British, which of the three regions of Nigeria has best organized form of governance.

  30. wow, I really love this post and how questions are being answered here.
    we were asked to briefly read on indirect rule in Northern Nigeria and this post has given me enough insight..thanks all my Niger brothers
    #gh

  31. What are the structure, function of native authority in northern, western and eastern Nigeria?

  32. The indirect rule system of colonial administration was introduced in Nigeria by Sir Lord Lugard around 1906 as a ‘child of necessity’. how do you justify this statement?

  33. What are the various regions before independence and elucidate on their dichotomy and similarities please.?

  34. Question
    In what ways did the policy of indirect rule impacted the structure, processes, actors and practice of local government administration in Ghana and Nigeria?

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